DHAKA: Bangladesh has launched a corruption probe into Nobel peace laureate and microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus over accusations of embezzlement at a telecoms firm he chairs, the country’s graft watchdog said on Thursday.

Yunus, 82, has been feted internationally for his efforts to eradicate poverty but his reputation at home has been tarnished by a labour dispute and a long-running feud with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The Anti-Corruption Commission said it was investigating the economist and other members of the Grameen Telecom (GT) board over allegations they had embezzled a share of profits meant to go to the firm’s employees.

“The commission has reviewed the allegation made by the factory inspection department against Grameen Telecom and has decided to investigate,” agency secretary Md. Mahbub Hossain told reporters.

The telco’s board is also accused of laundering and embezzling 29.77 billion taka ($315 million) and stealing another $5 million dollars meant for a labour welfare fund.

There was no immediate comment from Yunus.

Bangladeshi labour law requires all enterprises to give a five per cent profit share to employees.

The probe comes just months after GT agreed to pay $50 million to settle a long-running legal dispute by disgruntled employees, who had filed more than 100 lawsuits claiming they had been deprived of the payments.

Yunus is the founding chair of Grameen Telecom, which owns a multi-billion dollar stake in Bangladesh’s largest mobile phone operator.

He has been credited with helping eradicate extreme poverty in Bangladesh by offering microfinance loans to tens of millions of rural women through Grameen Bank, which he founded in the 1980s.

He was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work promoting economic development. But despite his status as a globe-trotting celebrity speaker, Yunus has faced a series of troubles at home in recent years.

He was forced from his position as Grameen Bank’s managing director in 2011 in a move his supporters blamed on conflict with Prime Minister Hasina. Yunus lost a subsequent challenge to his removal in the courts and was criticised by Hasina, who accused him of “sucking blood” from the poor with high interest rates.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2022

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